This is the third in a five-part series on localization of China ministry. Each essay centers on a different issue that the author has encountered as his organization goes through the process of handing over key leadership to local believers. The challenges are real, and the process is ongoing, meaning that some essays contain as many questions as answers.
At one point during the transition we all agreed that any new leader—Chinese or otherwise—may well need to adjust our organization’s leadership structure. This began a yearlong examination of where authority lies in our organization. Who makes decisions? Who advises the leaders who make those decisions?
After one meeting of our core leadership team, a local leader expressed frustration that so much time had been spent discussing housing issues for the expatriates. Given the host of issues that any organization working in contemporary China must deal with, this seemed a legitimate complaint, and so we collectively began exploring the organizational structure to find ways to bracket specifically foreigner-related issues from larger, organization-wide issues. Eventually, our top Chinese leader asked one particular westerner to serve as a vice-director in charge of all the foreigner issues the leader found irksome. Though there was much sympathy for this Chinese leader’s complaint, this plan was quickly abandoned: we all feared that this model of an organization-within-the-organization would undermine the practical authority of our Chinese leader by concentrating all the personal matters (heart matters?) of expatriate living in the hands of yet another westerner.
In the end, rather than trying to create a structure where Chinese leaders were insulated from expatriate-specific issues, we shifted our attention to helping our Chinese leaders learn how to reshape organizational priorities through the exercise of the leader’s power to set meeting agendas and to determine themes for various gatherings.
Of course, this raises perhaps the most challenging aspect of the authority question. Leaving aside the matter of whether or not western cross-cultural workers are willing to follow direction from Chinese colleagues; and without touching on the thorny (and ultimately theological) issue of whether or not foreigners are able to respect the spiritual leadership of Chinese brothers and sisters; the big question is a simple one. Just how much authority do Chinese leaders have? Can they adjust or redirect the organization’s vision? To what degree? If we are committed to full localization, to allowing our Chinese brothers and sisters to function in the cross-cultural project or agency in precisely the same capacities in which expatriates have over the years, then we need to be willing to allow God to lead them in new directions. As expatriates wishing to transfer China ministry into local hands, we need to examine our hearts and prepare ourselves for a true transfer of authority.
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